Picking Safe Puppy Toys

The world of dog toys seems virtually limitless. The selection at pet stores, in catalogs and online is mindboggling and irresistible.

So how do you choose fun toys for your puppy that are safe too? There’s no government or industry safety standard equivalent to human baby toy safeguards. However, you can make educated decisions based on expert advice.

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We asked Dr. Justine Lee -- a veterinarian, a diplomate of the American College of Veterinary Emergency and Critical Care, and the author of It’s a Dog’s Life… but It’s Your Carpet -- for some guidance in choosing the best puppy toys. She advises choosing products made in the United States, which don’t contain heavy metals, like lead. Select products that are very soft on puppy teeth, without hard rubber parts that can injure gums or teeth, like soft Kong and Frisbee brand puppy toys.

Pick Sturdy Toys
Puppy toys should be both sturdy yet forgiving of young puppy mouths, agrees Darcie Krueger, who owns SitStay.com, a canine retail website. “Look for toys that are generally more resilient than adult dog toys. You want toys your puppy can bite and chew on without damaging the toy or their teeth and gums, like Wubba and Tuffy brand products,” she says. “My favorites are made from a special teething rubber formula with a special shape that promotes healthy development of your puppy’s mouth and good chewing behavior.”

Steer Clear of These Toys
Unfortunately, you’ll find an abundance of unsuitable toys on the market. Lee advises:

  • Make sure toys have no small pieces that can fall or be chewed off, as these can get stuck in the stomach or intestines. Ideally, the toy should be made from one molded piece.
  • Avoid any toys with long string, yarn or similar construction. Your puppy can swallow these, resulting in a linear foreign body that your puppy might not be able to pass though his digestive system.
  • Don’t buy any toy that is just big enough to get stuck in your puppy’s jaws or lodged in his airway.
  • Note the size of the toy when it is new. Throw it away when it wears down.

Replace Toys as Needed
Be prepared to replace your puppy’s toys on an as-needed basis, advise Lee and Krueger. Toys help fulfill a puppy’s instinct to shake and kill small prey, so your puppy will delight in trying to destroy his toys. Puppies also simply get bored with some toys, just like human children. “I have a few baskets of toys for my pet, including soft discs, squeaky toys and balls. I just throw them out as they get shredded, chewed and used up,” says Lee.

Even if your puppy’s toys are very durable, you should always supervise independent and interactive playtime, because no toy is totally puppy-proof. “Many puppies like to toss and throw soft plush toys. I like them too, but toys like this can be torn to pieces,” says Krueger. As for washing toys, our experts agree: When toys are dirty and disgusting, throw them out and buy new ones.

Discovering toys your puppy enjoys is great fun. He might still love them as he transitions into adulthood. If not, you’ll enjoy finding new toys together!

What Is Freestyle Dancing With Dogs?

If you’ve ever seen a dog dance, then you know it can be hard to look away. There is something incredibly captivating about watching a canine cut a rug, and in recent months, the sport -- which is officially called Canine Freestyle -- has been featured on America’s Got Talent, Chelsea Lately, 20/20 and more. People just can’t seem to get enough.

So, what is it, exactly?

Canine Freestyle had its beginnings in Canada in the late eighties/early nineties, but when dog lovers in England and the United States caught wind of the new phenomenon, it quickly spread. It is thought to have been inspired by the competitive equestrian sport, dressage, and today it’s a recognized event at dog shows and competitions around the world.

Simply described, it’s a display of an owner and their dog’s obedience training and tricks set to music.

The first step in teaching a dog to dance is making sure it’s well trained. One of the first skills he’ll need to acquire is the ability to heel on both sides of your body, as opposed to just the left side, which is traditional.

Some of the most popular (and impressive!) freestyle moves include weaving in and out of the owner’s legs, spinning, jumping, rolling over, scooting backwards and the dog standing and ‘dancing’ on its hind legs. Some of the shows for beginners allow the handlers to use treats and toys during the performance, while the more advanced dancers do not.

In some competitions, costumes have become an important part of the acts and are coordinated with the music choice. And while many, many hours of training go into each routine, the cuteness factor of the sport has certainly served as great publicity, helping to get a younger generation of dog handlers interested in competition and racking up millions of views on beloved YouTube videos, like this one.

Handlers rave about the bonding that takes place when you spend one-on-one time with your dog daily during training for Canine Freestyle, and those relationships play a huge role in the performances. Audiences love to see pair who seems to be having fun and enjoying each other’s company.

Then again, what’s not to love about a dog wearing a bowtie dancing to disco?

For more information on teaching your own dog Canine Freestyle, check out the Musical Dog Sport Association or Canine Freestyle Federation, Inc.

The Best Way for Your Dog to Ride in the Car with You

Ready to hit the road with your dog? Before you put the car into drive, it’s important to make sure that your dog is safe. Some options for properly restraining your dog while in the car are in a crate, a harness or a seat belt.

Using a Crate

If you decide to keep your dog in a crate for the duration of the car ride, and your vehicle has enough room to stow it, the crate should be large enough for your dog to lie down or stand up and turn around. Bill Rabenberg, owner/trainer at Red Iron Kennels of Manor, Texas explains: “You must also ensure the crate is not so large that the dog can easily be tossed around inside,” he said. “It’s helpful to include a soft crate-bed to provide padding for the dog to lie on, but torn newspapers or cedar shavings also provide a soft spot for animals still learning to ride without getting carsick, and these make cleaning up a snap.”

Keeping your dog in a crate stops your pet from moving around the vehicle while it’s in motion, and also prevents him and you from injury during a sudden stop or accident.

Where to Let Them Ride

The safest place for your dog is in the back seat of the car. You can easily install a harness or dog seat belt to keep your pet from climbing into the front seat. “Some pets are difficult to manage when nervous, and may suddenly climb onto the driver's lap, interfere with driving or jump down below the driver’s legs, obstructing his ability to reach the gas and brake pedals and possibly causing an accident,” Rabenberg says. 

Another reason to keep your pet in the back seat is the danger from the force of a deployed airbag.

Dealing With Fear and Car Sickness

Many dogs are afraid of riding in the car or are apt to get carsick, but there are steps you can take to teach your dog that car rides are fun. Rabenberg suggests allowing the dog to sit in the car in the back seat while you sit in the front seat until he relaxes and then you can pet or reward him. After trying this for a few days, you can turn on the car but not drive anywhere. “After several successful attempts on several days, go for a short drive, just around the block,” Rabenberg says. “When you arrive home, take some time to pet and talk to your pet before getting out of the car, so he knows his reward comes with remaining in the vehicle, not rushing to get out. Repeat this several days in a row, then slowly expand your trips, making them a few blocks longer, and finally take him to a fun location, gradually increasing the distances.”

Allowing your dog to feel more comfortable in a moving car will lower his stress level and prevent accidents in the car.

Dogs enjoy the feel of a breeze coming from the car windows on their faces, too, so feel free to leave the window open, as long as your dog is properly restrained. If not, keep the windows closed to prevent him from falling or jumping out.

Your dog may be unhappy at first, but with a little time and patience he will soon become used to the restraint and look forward to your next car ride adventure.

Canicross: An Easier Way to Run With Your Dog

Chances are you’ve never heard of canicross -- but if you want to run with your dog, it just might be the sport for you. Although popular in Europe, it’s less well-known in North America. Canicross -- for “canine” and “cross-country” -- is the sport of running or walking behind a dog in harness. Dog-powered sports enthusiasts, such as mushers and skijorers (skiers pulled by dogs), canicross when there’s no snow to keep man and beast fit.

Now, runners, hikers and dog lovers are discovering the sport, which offers fun and health benefits for you and your dog. In canicross, your dog is harnessed with a line attached to your waist. Your dog then pulls you along, adding distance to your stride when you run -- and assistance on the uphill stretches. Here’s a clip of the sport from the U.K. group The Kennel Club:

Canicross Isn’t Just for Huskies

Canicross harnesses a dog’s tendency to pull and puts it to good use. “Most northern breeds are naturals because it’s bred into them,” says Catherine Benson of Maryland Sled Dog Adventures LLC. “But any dog whose adult weight is over 30 pounds, who has a desire to pull, and who is in decent physical condition with no joint or bone issues can be a good partner.”

Long-distance runners need a high-energy, fast-paced dog, whereas walkers and hikers do better with a strong but slower dog that won’t pull them off their feet.

Equipment and Training

Canicrossers use specialized gear. You can’t just attach a leash to your dog’s collar and off you go. You’ll need pulling harnesses, shock-absorbing lines, belts and related items. The best way to find these and to learn about the finer points of equipment is to contact a sled dog or canicross club in your area. These dog-power devotees will be happy to show you the ropes, so to speak. Dog adventure businesses also offer classes and clinics.

Pull training is a progressive process. “Let your dog get used to wearing the harness and lines when he’s young so it becomes second nature,” says Linda Newman of Points Unknown, a dog adventure business in Minnesota. “Teach him commands for “Go” (“Line out” or “Tighten up”), “Stop,” “Right” (“Gee”), and “Left” (“Ha” or “Haw”). Any commands are OK as long as you’re consistent. Reward him for pulling in harness, never on a leash. Dogs are smart, they know the difference.”

Train a puppy in short sessions a few times per week, ramping up the frequency and duration as your dog matures. Check with your veterinarian when it comes to building endurance in your dog, as your dog’s stamina can depend on his age, his current condition, where you train and many other factors. Your dog is likely to build endurance more quickly if he’s already accustomed to jogging with you.

Dogs learn to love canicross and might pull to the point of exhaustion, so it’s up to you to not overdo it. Labored breathing, occasional stumbling and an unwillingness to keep pace are signs your dog is fatigued.

You can train in any weather, but dogs don’t offload heat as well as people do. Benson uses the “Rule of 100.” She explains, “If the combined temperature and humidity are 100 to 120 F, either don’t train or give your dog lots of breaks, including swim breaks, and have plenty of drinking water available.” Excessive panting and rapid breathing are indications of heat exhaustion.

Improved Fitness for You and Your Dog

Canicross is ideal for exercise fanatics. The health benefits include stronger muscles and improved endurance for you and your dog -- although he’ll think it’s just plain fun! Plus, the exercise and training help alleviate boredom and improve the bond between you and your canine companion. Best of all, canicross can tone you and your dog at any pace, almost any place, and any time you want to “line out,” as the canicrossers say.


6 Tips to Keep Your Dog Safe While Flying

No matter how prepared I felt, I was still nervous when flying with my black Labrador, Tasha, to Colorado. Is it too cold? Will she be thrown about? Does she have to go to the bathroom?

Flying with your dog can be stressful. Here are six checklist items to keep the stress level down so both you and your dog can be happy travelers.

1. Bring a Kennel
First and foremost, buy an airline-approved crate and be sure that your dog thinks of this crate as his den. You may need to spend time getting your dog comfortable with being in his crate for long periods of time. There will also be a lot of loud noises on the plane and strange people walking around in the cargo-loading area. To prepare him for your trip, place your dog in the kennel and try carrying him in it by taking a drive to a park or busy location. This way, your dog can get used to loud noises and a busy environment while being handled inside his crate.

2. Outfit the Crate
There are certain items that you will want to place on the outside and inside of the crate to prepare it for travel:

  • On the outside of the crate, attach a few bright orange stickers that read “LIVE ANIMAL.” Most airlines will do this as protocol, but it doesn’t hurt to have them on the crate before you arrive at the airport.
  • Include a typed one-page profile of your dog that includes your contact information, including your cell phone number.
  • Make sure water and food dishes are attached to the inside of the crate.
  • Tape a small bag of food and a leash to the top of the crate.

3. Flight Time
To avoid plane changes or delays, check the length of the flight and try to book a direct flight when possible. It is important to match the length of the flight with your dog’s temperament and what you know he can handle. Whether your dog is being shipped as cargo or is riding in the cabin will help determine his experience during the flight.

4. Health Clearance
Before taking off, get a clean-bill-of-health certificate from your veterinarian. Your dog cannot fly without veterinarian records stating he is in good health. Most airlines require veterinarian health certificate records no more than 30 days out, while some require a certificate that is dated no more than 10 days before your departure date.

5. Exercise a Go-go
Every dog has a different energy level. A young Labrador runs on high octane and will need to expend this energy before being cooped up in his kennel for a long flight. An airport with an onsite dog area is a perfect place to play with your dog before placing him in his crate. This will also give him a good chance to relieve himself before the flight. But stay away from sedatives. The American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) and the Independent Pet and Animal Transportation Association (IPATA) say that sedation could lead to injury if your dog’s crate moves during the flight and your dog is not able to brace itself. The increased altitude may further cause respiratory and cardiovascular problems for sedated animals.

6. Nervous Nelly
You have decided to make the flight with your dog, but sometimes no matter how safe something seems, you may feel nervous sending your dog down into the belly of the plane. Even though you know the probability of nothing happening to him is in your favor, the separation and inability to see what his environment is like can be unnerving. Here are a few ways for both of you to keep your cool:

  • Give plenty of reassuring hugs and kisses to your dog. When you’re calm and confident, your pet will follow your lead and realize there is nothing to worry about. If you’re emotional about the separation and the trip, your pet may pick up on it and become concerned about the adventure.
  • Keep the mood light with a little preflight play to relieve any tension.
  • If your dog is in cargo, ask the flight attendant to confirm that your dog is loaded and secure once you’re on board. They may be able to give your dog a little extra water in his dish before take-off.

I can’t imagine going anywhere without Tasha if I can help it. She adds so much to my adventures that I feel like something is missing if she’s not by my side. In Colorado, half the fun was seeing her play in the snow and bounce everywhere with excitement as if to say, “What’s next?! What’s next?!”

Taking the extra time to become mentally and practically prepared for a trip involving extra logistics will make all the difference to you and your dog.

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